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Get the Picture


I once spoke to a group of marketing students from U.C. Berkeley. I asked them to paint a picture of an individual from the following information:

His father is a lawyer and Rotarian. His mom is a teacher and president of the PTA. He’s Protestant. His family has lived in Springfield for three generations, and he graduated fifth in his high school class.

Naturally all I got back were blank stares.

Then I asked the same question with the following information:

He wears Volcom jeans, a Quicksilver t-shirt, a Hurley cap and DC sneakers. He drives a tuner and listens to The Killers.

Bingo! Faces lit up.

Whether you like it or not, we’ve become a society that defines itself by what we buy, not necessarily by what we believe. To some extent people believe that brands say something about the person. And frankly, to be part of this consideration set is critical for the success of a brand. Call it shallow or materialistic, but American business thrives on this kind of consumerism, and its exportation helps drive the global economy.

Now look at a picture of Osama Bin Laden. See any logos? No. Bin Laden represents a growing segment of the world’s population that rejects western materialism and globalization. When we consider the wide gamut of cultures and ethnicities we market to worldwide, we need to be more sensitive to the differing and complex sensibilities of these various cultures. Reactions to techniques we believe are fundamentally sound and appropriate marketing practices in the United States can vary drastically in different cultures.

Instead of resorting to our traditional forms of advertising, why not employ a tactic that is less intrusive?

Just how big is a hectare?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear a report from the BBC or watch a correspondent reporting from some remote locale, I scratch my head and wonder how many acres are in a hectare? Well, oddly enough, not all cultures drive 55, and the yard is about as relevant as a rod to anyone outside of the United States. The same goes for establishing success metrics for a global campaign.

For example, in many countries, online ad serving is not supported by the structure we have in the United States. In some regions, publishers provide ad serving. Therefore, the resulting metrics may not be accurate enough to truly measure the success of a campaign.

Additionally, online commerce rates can vary widely between regions, so sometimes it is more effective to employ a branding campaign than a direct response model.

Before you approach the client with a metric that measures the success of a campaign, it would be prudent to get on the phone with Colin in London and Xuyen in Beijing and agree on a metric or a spectrum of metrics that would define relevant success in their given markets.

I see by my cell phone this must be Beijing.

Recently we pitched a multinational company for the design and development of a global community website for teens and young adults. As the RFP described it, the site would be mirrored and localized to various languages and cultures. The ultimate goal was to create a place where people could communicate; share ideas, music, pictures, video-- anything. In theory this seems like a virtuous and doable idea. In practice it is quite another matter-- possible, but maybe not practical.

For many people around the world a website is not the first thing they think of when they think of communication or sharing. In western nations, with the installed cable infrastructure and the increasing ubiquity of high-speed internet access, PCs are the accepted means of communication. However, the West has lagged behind most emerging countries in the adoption of the cellular phone and Wi-Fi and WAP technology. Most people in suburban and rural locales around the globe communicate primarily through cell phones.

Perhaps a community-based website is a good idea in the U.S. market. But instead of duplicating what works as community in the United States, consider what is the most popular and effective medium of communication in a given region and plan and develop for it. Examples are a branded WAP application to access existing communities, or a WAP site to mirror whatever you create online.

Soap is not a four-letter word in German.

Many years ago a group of well-intentioned folks got together for the altruistic goal of building an edifice that would literally reach into the heavens. Well, El Supremo had other plans for the Tower of Babel. All that humanity got to show for their efforts was a mind numbing cacophony known as the babble of languages. As a result, selling soap online to a global audience is not as simple as we’d like to think. The following is a bit of cautionary advice not only for the marketer but also for the graphic and motion designers in your agency’s creative department.

As you plan your creative, and particularly localized landing sites, be careful to design for dynamic formats. Language translation cannot only be a messaging challenge, but it can also be a design challenge. The visual designer may spend agonizing hours kerning and spacing a paragraph to balance the look perfectly only to find that in translation "soap" has become "wäschereiseife" in German.

What once was a well-designed block of text becomes a ragged paragraph with gaping negative space. Even worse, if the designer "hard codes" a paragraph, it becomes a graphic text block that may have to be re-keyed in fonts that accommodate a unique Cyrillic character. To avoid this issue, most smart designers use Unicode typefaces (also known as UCS fonts or Unicode fonts) to accommodate a wide range of characters and symbols from different languages. The fonts contain embedded instructions that inform the operating system what special ligature forms (unique letter combinations) are necessary to be applied, or how to correctly space letters using kerning pairs.

Some designers are very resistant to using Unicode fonts, particularly in display type such as headlines. But the generic and universal properties that make these fonts so valuable also make them somewhat bland. To avoid this, create a dynamic design that can automatically update graphical headlines from a predefined database. This technique also applies to any localized graphical elements such as photos, video or Flash-based movies.

Dynamic page design requires up-front planning and coordination. But when complete, the final product appears to the user as a well-designed, localized website or ad unit, and to the client as a functional, updateable and cost-effective piece of communication.


Like art, engagement is something that agencies and clients know when they see it, but no one can actually define it in a meaningful way. What the agency wonk who uses the term actually means is:

"We do not want click-thru on your site, and user experience is an absolute disaster when people get there. Since we cannot change your actual site, we are trying to think of strategies in which people do something with our ad, rather than just look at it, ignore it, or click-thru it. Instead of bringing people to your site, how about we bring your site to them? We want them to spend time with your brand, but in our ad. Let us give people a reason to stop and do something relevant that will make them think pleasantly of us. And then, let them go on their way.

Also, we'll be able to pull some metrics from this. Will those metrics be relevant? No. What would be ideal is if we could measure how we changed someone's perceptions about us, but we cannot actually measure that (at least not with the paltry budgets you are putting against this thing). What we will have is the number of people who stop and do something with our ad and whether they do something afterwards, and we'll definitely take credit for that. We know your CFO is hungry for you to justify the expense of all marketing. Remember, they'll have no idea what you are talking about anyway, but you'll have numbers. They love numbers."

Social media

"Dear brand, you are not going to like some of the things that are said about you after we, your agency, force you into some meaningful connections with your consumers via social channels. Did you know that you piss people off sometimes? We did. Well, you are going to have to face those people. And you are going to have to do it in a way that the consumer thinks of you, not how you think of yourself. The consumer does not care about that, they just think of you as Coca Cola, or American Express, so you are going to have to act like that or you are going to look foolish. And this is great because, with this new ability, we can truly gauge what people are saying in a way that we can track.

In reality, most things social should be handled internally at your company. We should not be put in charge of this because as soon as anyone finds out that the persona we created through your social accounts is being handled externally, the gig is up, and everyone will laugh at your company for being so backward.

On the flip side, we know that you have the entire compliance department and every myopic thinking, uptight lawyer in your company in apoplectic shock anytime you mention the word Twitter or Facebook. So, we should both agree you need us, if only to have someone external to blame after this blows up in all of our faces."


Usually referred to in search marketing, this is the long-tail:

11 agency buzzwords you need to know

Going after the long-tail means that you acquire customers more efficiently because you are paying less for each individual search term, and there is less competition over those keywords. Instead of only buying the keywords "Car Insurance," which is very expensive, you buy 100 other terms like "Car Insurance for a Ford Festiva" or "Chevy Volt insurance in New York." The advantage being that those words cost less per-click to buy and convert at a higher percentage. The disadvantage being that a lot less people search for them, and therefore it requires hundreds, if not thousands, of terms like that to equal the volume of one good, highly searched word.

If you are a client or brand, when you hear the term "long tail" you should think a couple of things. The first is, "Great, I will get more business and it will cost less," and the second is, "Why is the agency asking for more money if this is more efficient?" Efficiency has a cost attached to it, and your agency wants that money.

It is less efficient for the agency to target long-tail keywords, requires much more management time to do so, and thereby racks up your agency hours. It also quickly becomes a very unwieldy beast, and extricating an agency once they are the ones responsible for monetizing the long-tail can be difficult.

If you are going to "go after the long-tail," then please do it in a way that is automated and where you control your costs, using tools from Didit or Efficient Frontier. These companies charge a flat percentage, so they make more money only when you are getting those more efficient clicks and converting customers. Whatever you do, do not let your agency persuade you to let them manage it, unless they specialize in search marketing or you really are clueless about digital marketing.


Coolhunting is the agency saying, "We're relevant to society, and you, at your technologically backward, fashion bereft company, are not. So, why don't you please hold your tongue, because we were the kids you followed around like puppies in high-school, and that is what you are doing now. We know how to reach the people that influence other people, because they are our friends. We go out for lattes with them at whatever hip new place you have not heard of. You are the beneficiaries of our brilliant meme making. So please sit back, and let us make this ad."

The problem here is they are almost right. That is why you hire ad agencies, because they are connected to the tastemakers; but do they have to be so arrogant about it? I have worked on the agency side as a creative and on the brand side managing agencies, and I can state, for a fact, that the sheer scope of what the agency does not understand about your business could stun a herd of buffalo. So, just smile and nod because the cool kids attract attention. So, if they are proposing coolhunting, just remember: "Ah yes, we are just trying to go after influencers who talk about our products or services to other people, with something that sounds sexier than 'word of mouth.'"

Brand extension

"Look, we didn't come up with this campaign, or this idea, but the only way we know we're going to be able to sell anything through your bureaucratic process is by attaching to something you are already doing that people have previously approved internally. We are probably experimenting with a new idea or technology, and essentially we are asking for you to fund this experiment. You will never hire us to do your TV spots, so we are relegated to begging for your table scraps, and surviving on the coat tails of your offline campaign.

If we have to make one more banner campaign to go with you offline TV and print, we are going to throw up. But do not ignore us for too long, because all those dollars are shifting to where the people are, and they are not reading anything in that magazine anymore. They are online, so we just plan on sticking around and doing the stuff that no one notices until you hire someone internally who 'gets' digital marketing."


"Here is exactly how we are going to rig this thing so that we can take credit for good performance and simultaneously insulate ourselves to deflect blame if it appears that the numbers do not look good. Do you really think search generates all that business by itself? Of course not, it is the beneficiary of the last click the consumers make. If you added up all of the credit your different agencies were taking for the marketing work you are doing, your company would be as profitable as Apple."

Think of this like a pie which everyone is not only claiming credit for their piece, but also simultaneously claiming that the two pieces next to their piece are theirs as well. That is the reality of attribution. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions that go into every purchase we make as consumers, and we think that we can actually quantify and track that precisely.

It's like looking at the entrance to a building and trying to determine why people are walking through the doors. Do they work in the building? Do they just want to go to the bathroom? Are they lost? Are they the maintenance crew? Is the building being robbed? Each is valid, some unlikely; but if there were five agencies, they would all take credit for everyone walking in the door. Why? Because if they do not take credit, they don't have the story to justify their particular marketing expense.

And you need attribution to protect yourself anytime someone comes around with the tin cup wanting marketing dollars back. So the agency says, "Ever since your company started viewing advertising and marketing as an expense, rather than an investment, this is the game we all have to play. Now shut up, and put the cookie on your website, ok?"

Viral marketing

"As your agency, we know there is actually no such thing as 'viral marketing,' but luckily you don't. Something going viral is the effect of good marketing and planting seeds in the right places to create self-sustainment, in which we do not have to pay for that extra exposure. But 'viral marketing' does not mean anything.

Do we actually know why something goes viral and something else doesn't? Yes, we know, it's the consumer who determines it. Can we replicate it? No one actually can, and anyone who says they can is lying. All we can do is be smart and increase something's 'viral potential' by planting it in relevant places. Our hope is that it goes viral, and our biggest drawback is you, the client. Usually, for something to go viral, you actually have to take risks, and let's face it, you are not know for your risk taking. If you were, then you probably understand the dynamics of viral, so why are you still listening?


What? Are you serious? As if we do not already have too many acronyms in our industry, we are going to confuse you further. The agency has just thrown you a curveball. What does it mean? Social features, Local business, Mobile applications. So, if your agency is encouraging you to get into SoLoMo, take a long pause and respond, "So you want us to build an app for the iPhone that encourages our customers to talk about us and offers something relevant that is local to them, right? Why didn't you say that?"


The agency is simply saying, "Wow, we think we are wasting some money here, and there seems to be a missed opportunity to improve our work for you. It will just require a small investment in a tool that helps automate a process for us. That will free up some of our time to be doing what you hired us for, which is thinking of strategies to help you. In fact, this is one of them.

When you hear "optimization," it is almost always advisable to listen to the agency. Even if the system does not get "great" results, I have yet to see a system that does not outweigh the cost put toward it. And there is always some good learning by trying them. Really, the agency is trying to help you -- if only because allocating hours for tedious tasks is like death by 1,000 paper cuts for them. It's not why they got into the business, and it's not why you hired them.

Crowd sourcing

"You are either not giving us the budget we need to pull off anything useful, or you are giving us way too much budget and are dumb enough not to fear the consumer. In either case, we have pity on you. I should only have to utter the words 'Chevy Tahoe' and you should go running for the hills. We may say 'crowd sourcing,' but you should hear 'crowd slapping.' All crowd sourcing means is that instead of us coming up with ideas, you are going to put your brand in the hands of the great unwashed masses. Yes, advertising in not rocket science, but it is a scientific art of influence. Yes, everyone thinks that they can make a better commercial or campaign: 'Oh, oh, I know, you should have a commercial that (insert insanely lame pun here).' We do not walk into your company and tell your CFO to invest in gold. Why do you continually believe you have great ideas? If you did, you would be an ad agency, not a client.

If we are advising you to crowd source something, we are not worth the money you are paying us. Essentially, we have admitted we are out of ideas, and if you are saying we should do it, then you do not trust us to come up with ideas, and you have no idea how much damage the crowd can do to your brand."

Behavioral targeting

Ok, you know how sometimes you surf for something that's a little sexy or even naughty? Come on, we know that you do. We also know that many people do.

That is how we, your agency, is going to help you, our client, target your new brand of lingerie. We will follow them around the web, and BAMN! We keep hitting them with your brand.

Eventually they may notice, and find it a bit creepy ("Why am I getting an ad for Lingerie on this site?"), but honestly it's relevant, and you know they are in our target demographic.

Here is the deal: We don't really know anything else about them. We do not know who they are, where they live, their age, or anything personally identifying about them -- though we can infer those things.

It is honestly less information than they give filling out any form for a magazine subscription. So, why does it feel creepy? Somehow it feels like spying, but it is not personally identifying information. Rather, it is behaviorally targeted advertising, which is different. So stop freaking out, and let us implement it to improve your conversion rates. And please explain it internally to your company so they stop running around like Chicken Little? Ok?

Sean X Cummings is founder and difference maker at SXC Marketing.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


Banners work -- hard, in fact. People wax philosophic about banner blindness. They point to remarkably small click rates and studies that suggest that large numbers of people don't interact with them.

But empirical evidence proves that they work plenty hard. There are lots of studies that demonstrate their efficacy. I'll confine this discussion to just one. The IAB did a study several years ago that demonstrated a broad range of positive impacts from banner ads. Fielded across 12 leading websites with 16,758 respondents, the study demonstrated significantly strong impacts on awareness, brand measures, and purchase.

Further, the in-market experience of thousands -- hundreds of thousands of advertisers -- also proves their effectiveness. Digital is arguably the most accountable media available. And every year, more companies spend more money on banners. Why? Because they deliver against concrete business objectives. The results and reporting show this over and over again.

Banners work well despite serving in an environment with remarkable clutter. It's not at all unusual for there to be 12 banners on a page -- pages they might also share with video players, articles, and other forms of content. Despite this plethora of distractions, banners continue to deliver cost effective means to drive sales, awareness, and brand perceptions. Would they work better in a less cluttered page? Probably. But they do their jobs even in environments filled with myriad distractions.

Necessary evils

They're like death and taxes -- inevitable. Not every ad can explode on a screen in expanderiffic intrusiveness. Multiple interstitials between every page wouldn't make for much of a consumer experience. If you accept that it is unrealistic to expect consumers to seek out all of the marketing experiences necessary to keep the economy going -- if you accept that we need loads of revenue to keep the lights on at content sites -- then ads on pages are going to be part of the web experience for years to come.

Am I suggesting that they are better than rich, involving, multimedia experience that consumers actively seek? For some brands, yes. Not every communication challenge requires depth. And most brands cannot afford to do everything with bells and whistles.

Banners are limited in their ability to communicate complicated stories. But for many companies and brands, they are the most cost-effective means of delivering a graphical message. Publishers will continue to leverage them as a means of monetizing pages in lieu of spawning foreground experiences every time the user moves a mouse over text or a photo or another page element.

Hey, if you are a brand that can afford to do everything rich and big and bold, fantastic. Knock yourself out. But in order to monetize the hundreds of millions of pages of content out there, we need a standardized, simple-to-execute solution that doesn't totally tick consumers off.

Revenue and technology advances

Banners are marvelous foot soldiers in the battle for revenue. They deliver great results in direct response programs, which continue to comprise fully half of digital advertising. While the click and interaction rates for banners have always been rather low, so too are their typical prices.

Premium publications can command high CPMs precisely because banners on their sites deliver results that warrant these costs. But the even bigger story is that the vast majority of banners sell for remarkably low CPMs. These low rates more than make up for the small response rates they spawn. Further, when the view-through impacts are computed, the value per dollar spent on banners is even more apparent.

Finally, the advent of affordable attribution analyses is demonstrating that banners are even more powerful components of direct-response programs, helping to drive far more sales than can be directly attributed to them through click-through analysis.

They just keep getting smarter

Minimally targeted dirt cheap tonnage will probably play an important role for lots of brands for the foreseeable future. But the explosion in available targeting data, coupled with exchange-based purchasing platforms for these targeting aids, has transformed the banner business into a world in which highly refined messages can be delivered to specific audience segments cost effectively and with minimal waste.

That's a key way banners have gotten smarter on the back end. On the front end, new technologies have dramatically expanded the range of capabilities and interactions possible within the confines of these small commercial spaces. Video, dynamic content, multiple hotspots, and more -- these elements all drive more and different interactions amid declining third-party technology costs.

A sound business model

It doesn't matter that people don't like them: You'd be hard pressed to find a consumer who looked forward to seeing more banners as he or she surfed the web. But when push comes to shove, consumer preference doesn't matter much here. Banners are providing a huge portion of the revenue for content creators online. And a decent web designer can create templates and pages where banners have noticing value but don't drive viewers off.

Hey, someone has to pay for all this content and access, and banners appear to be a way to balance the need for revenue with consumers' reluctance to pay for content. People understand the need for ads and revenue. While they may not relish the experience of seeing these ads, they understand that, without them, a lot of the content they enjoy would disappear.

For the foreseeable future, there appears to be no alternative to these little buggers.

Jim Nichols is vice president of branding at ROI DNA.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Photo of wooden coffin" image, "Happy, sad, angry, in love faces" image, and "Red ribbons, banners" image via Shutterstock.

Help customers help you

Make it easy for consumers to contribute your product images to Pinterest by adding the "Pin it" button to your content. Liz Stanley, author of the lifestyle blog Say Yes to Hoboken has seamlessly integrated the button into her posts that feature images. Since October, Liz has seen the traffic to her blog increase up to 20 percent from Pinterest referral traffic. Take advantage of this audience driver by implementing the button to your website images. The more Pinterest users are pinning your content, the more exposure you'll have to potential customers, and the more you're contributing to the Pinterest community.

Make it beautiful and they will come

Another sure-fire way to ensure re-pinning of your content is to produce beautiful pins and boards. The purpose of Pinterest is to create collections of your interest. For marketers, this translates as a curated collection of images that are beautiful and inspiring which, ultimately, bring us joy.

Inspire your potential customers to share your product images by investing in art direction and high quality photography. Kate Spade is a great example of a brand that consistently generates gorgeous images of its products and, coupled with its active pinning, have generated a 30K+ following.

Drive purchase intent

This is another area where Pinterest makes it easy for you to convert Pinterest clicks into dollars by utilizing their Gift section. In Gifts, users can filter by price and click into a pin to review product details. Once there users click on the image, they are directed to your online store to make the purchase. To take advantage of this feature, simply add a pin with a price and it's automatically listed in the Gifts section.

Leverage social networks

If you follow all the steps above then you are a savvy pinner with great content, but the way to launch your Pinterest influence to the next level is to share your pins with your social networks.

Pinterest gives you the ability to share pins with your social media followers. Simply connect your brand's Facebook and Twitter accounts to your Pinterest profile via the settings area and each time you pin an item you can choose to share it with your networks.

We know that if you're interested in using Pinterest for your brand then you probably have worked hard to grow a sizable Facebook and Twitter following. Provide these audiences a more engaging and visually exciting experience on these platforms by sharing your pins. You'll be surprised at how many of your fans are already pinning masters and who are thrilled that you've joined the pinning party.

Pin to win

Now that you've mastered the Pinterest basics, it's time to engage your target audience by running a contest on Pinterest to publicize a milestone such as a product launch or sale.

Microsoft's Windows Pin it to Win it sweepstakes does just that by inviting the Pinterest community to re-pin images of its colorful mice collection and place them in a board inspired by this hardware collection. Pinners simply post their completed board as a comment and one lucky participant will win a Microsoft prize package. In no time, Microsoft will have scores of Pinterest boards inspired by its artfully designed mice collection surfacing on Pinterest as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Now that you have these seven Pinterest marketing methods in your customer engagement toolkit, you're ready to become a Pinteresting brand (no, the puns won't stop!) Your brand will soon be a visually enchanting medium for regular customers and new ones, without having to think up a 140-character branding blurb. So sit back and enjoy an increase of traffic from Pinterest and the peace of mind knowing that your brand is blazing a trail with this innovative social media darling.

Rosa Terrazas is a director of publishers and communities at Federated Media Publishing.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"The pins of various colors" image and "Abstract bright textile" image via Shutterstock.

Size doesn't matter

What is a "like," follower, fan, or +1 worth? By many accounts, not much. So why do marketers measure the success of social media by these relatively arbitrary numbers?

The primary reason is that the data is easily available. It's also easy to comprehend as well, but that doesn't make it valuable. Marketers might also fall into the trap of comparing metrics across each platform. A Facebook "like" doesn't carry the same weight as a Twitter or LinkedIn follower, unless you agree they are all fairly useless as indicators. One excellent example is the Wildfire Facebook Leaderboard, which normalizes "like" values -- effectively comparing Facebooks to Shakiras.

The fix: If you're insistent on trending the growth of your fan base, at least add context. Track the growth of your fan base in relation to competitors. As I've outlined in a previous social media metrics article, there is more value in measuring engagement and other metrics relative to fan base growth.

Speed kills

There's no need to reinvent the wheel here, even in the context of a speed metaphor. The insanity of measuring the velocity of tweets is best summed up by Stephen Colbert and his Numbotron 3000.

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According to major media outlets, Michelle Obama garnered a record 28,000 tweets per minute at the 2012 People's Party Congress of Charlotte. Colbert makes fun of the media for its inability to put context around the metric. There are many reasons a velocity metric is nearly meaningless, the primary being that it does not take sentiment into consideration.

Similarly, businesses that believe measuring the volume of content has any value in relation to the quality of the content are shortsighted. There is no prize for generating more tweets than your competitors, other than a greater probability of fans unfollowing you.

The fix: Add context to velocity-based metrics. Start with sentiment, then consider engagement and resulting actions taken by fans.

Getting overly sentimental

According to researchers, even the best social monitoring tools achieve 70 percent accuracy in terms of assessing sentiment. As such, large brands might risk making strategic decisions based on inaccurate, incomplete, or incorrectly interpreted data.

Smaller brands have a different but similar challenge: being able to pull insights from a relatively small data set. Smaller companies lack conversation volume that creates statistical significance, which can lead to false positives -- making decisions based on unrepresentative, inaccurate, and therefore misleading data.

The fix: Marketers should manually review social conversations to verify the accuracy of sentiment provided by automated social platforms. Take the sentiment results with a grain of salt and focus more on the trends than the hard data itself. Smaller businesses should be careful with sentiment data as well. If data is limited, increase the time horizon or sources for collection.

Boiling it down

Klout has been criticized by many for its simplified single scoring methodology. While I appreciate the concept (as does Google, which filed a patent for a similar ranking algorithm a few years back), I see the shortcomings.

The primary concern with Klout is what it does measure: a limited slice of the social universe. The secondary concern is what Klout doesn't measure: a larger slice of the social universe. For example, I have two Twitter profiles, and both rank relatively well, despite sharing similar content. (I had a reason for two profiles originally, but that's another story for another time.) Also worth noting: You can "game" your Klout Score by doing somewhat arbitrary activities like posting tips on Foursquare, yet an active presence on Pinterest has no value (for the time being at least) despite being the third most popular social platform by time spent.

More depressing than being easily gamed by humans is the fact that Klout scores have been vulnerable to manipulation by robots and related tools. As such, it's dangerous when companies use it to make decisions, from hiring to assessing the "influence" of fans and rewarding (or ignoring) them accordingly.

The fix: Take Klout with grain of salt and a shot of tequila. To get the most value from Klout, focus on trending your score and benchmarking against competitors.

Digging a hole

A few years ago, we noticed a huge spike in traffic on a client's website. We quickly determined the source: StumbleUpon. Digging deeper into the data, we noticed a vast majority of the traffic left the site immediately, which shot the bounce rate through the roof and left little in terms of valuable visitors.

Similar stories can be told about Digg and Delicious. Marketers that put too much (or any) weight into bookmark websites may be Delirio.us. Quantity of traffic rarely equates to quality of traffic, and long-gone are the days of easy website monetization via advertising or affiliate links, thanks to Google's Penguin and Panda updates.

The fix: It is always important to assess traffic sources and whether or not the traffic is qualified. Beyond qualified leads, sales, or other forms of traffic monetization, there are other benefits to referring traffic from bookmark sites: the potential for new (quality) inbound links and the associated increase in search engine rankings, however miniscule. By tracking and trending link and ranking metrics, you might be able to measure the impact of these sites.

Miscellaneous metrics

Rather than bore you to death by picking apart specific platform metrics, I figured it more prudent to highlight a few of the most misleading and meaningless metrics across the spectrum. While just a sampling, the metrics outlined below best represent shortcomings not only with platforms but with measurement in general.

Comments: Considering a good deal of blog, article, or page comments might consist of spam or lack relevance, counting comments can be a waste of time.

Fix: Assess the quality and sentiment and take the opportunity to respond and engage as appropriate. Break down comments into ratios like comments-per-post.

Google+ +1s: These are as useless as Facebook "likes," which isn't surprising, considering Google+ was designed to be a Facebook killer. The +1 button is now ubiquitous and easy to use, but that can diminish the value of receiving a +1. Fix: Similar to previous advice, focus on trending and benchmarking competitors. If you're truly interested in assessing the ROI on Google+, consider alternative metrics like the number of friends in a Circle or analyze comment quality and sentiment.

Impressions: Most commonly associated with YouTube, this metric is very one-dimensional and therefore misleading. What can you learn from a YouTube video being viewed 1,000 times? What if 990 of the views were from your mother, a university student in China, or even a robot? Impressions can be associated with anything, including page or image views, and the problem persists. Fix: For YouTube, be sure to take a deep dive into analytics to evaluate retention rates as well as viewer origin and demographics. For other platforms and media types, try to tie the impression metrics to higher-value key performance indicators like conversion rates, qualified leads, or sales.

Downloads: For this article, I'm going to associate mobile with social in order to make a point. Similar to collecting email addresses, counting downloads is not a direct correlation to leads or sales. The challenge is in the ability to assess the quality of the download in terms of impact on your business, especially considering low usage rates across most apps. Fix: Identify and measure power-users of your apps by looking at repeat usage. Also take a closer look at user data to determine if you are truly reaching your target end users.

Peter Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out, best summed up meaningless metrics with this statement: "Numbers don't matter. What's important is that you understand your audience, know what they want, and give it to them."

For additional thoughts on improving your social media metrics, read my article, "The Social Media Metrics That Truly Matter."

Other resources:

Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, Ore.

On Twitter? Follow Lewis at @kentjlewis. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Smiling businessman showing a calculator" image via Shutterstock.


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